“Biodynamic farmers strive to create a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility as much as possible from within the farm itself.”
The term “biodynamic” is one that is still often met by some confusion. In short, biodynamic agriculture is an advanced form of organic and regenerative agriculture that focusses on food quality and soil health, using an approach that is ecological, ethical and holistic. The concepts of biodynamics were first introduced in 1924 by Austrian philosopher, social activist and pioneer Rudolf Steiner, through his series of lectures known as the Agricultural Course. These were inspired by his spiritual philosophy of Anthroposophy (of which freedom is at the core). Since then, biodynamic farming has been catching the eye of small farmers and vintners across various continents, with interest in it steadily growing year after year. Read on as we attempt to unpack this agricultural phenomenon that seems to leave people both confused and amazed.
Origins and principles
“Biodynamic” comes from two Greek words, namely bios meaning “life”, and dynamos meaning “energy”. Essentially, “bio” refers to the biological (organic) elements of agriculture (such as animals, plants, water and soil), whilst “dynamic” refers to the cosmic formative forces that underlie the physical world (according to the Biodynamic Agricultural Association of Southern Africa). Steiner based his ideas on the fundamental principle that the farm is a living organism, a self-contained entity existing within a larger system. However, the universe as a whole (so earth and all that surrounds it) should be considered when it comes to agriculture and actually managed as one indivisible whole. According to Steiner, it was the introduction of chemical fertilisers at the turn of the 20th Century that had harmful effects on the soil and caused a notable deterioration in the health and quality of both livestock and crops. In Steiner’s opinion, this would have devastating and far-reaching effects on the future of farming.
What constitutes biodynamic farming?
Biodynamic agriculture is an approach to farming that incorporates the following aspects:
- Integration of crops and livestock
- Recycling of nutrients (in the soil)
- Maintenance of the health of the soil, animals, crops and farmer is holistic in nature.
Holistic management practices are fed by the fact that the farm is viewed as an ecosystem that exists within a greater whole, and because of this, factors such as the environment, social and economic factors need to be considered. Biodynamic agriculture focusses on natural resources such as plants, animals and minerals, and how they interact within specific environmental limitations. It moves away from the exploitation of the earth’s resources and instead, aims to achieve an ecological balance, enhance soil quality and increase crop production, all while keeping negative effects on the earth as minimal as possible. Biodynamic farming is also not driven by financial gain – the model is designed to feed the farmer, his family and workers first, after which the surplus can be traded.
When it comes to attempting to create a harmonious whole, farmers employing a biodynamic methodology will use a range of specially formulated herbal and/or organic compost preparations. These act to enhance the vitality and fertility of the plant, animal and soil life, which in turn, helps produce food, timber and fibre of the highest quality. Because soil structure and nutrient cycles are enriched, plant development and growth are maximised. Furthermore, no artificial or synthetic substances are used, enabling the soil to improve organically without any damaging effects on the environment or to the plants and animals taking place.
The compost preparations are a scientific combination of six medicinal herb extracts:
- Stinging nettle
- Oak bark
Fermented manure and minerals are also used, with each preparation being designed to guide a specific decomposition process in the composting mass. Together, they help to boost soil vitality and in turn, help ensure the growth of quality produce.
The future of farming?
Whilst biodynamic farming has and continues to receive its fair share of skepticism, it definitely has a place in the farming industry and when done correctly, can yield impressive results. The benefits, among others, include richer soil with an increased capacity to hold water, as well as improved plant and animal health. In many ways, it is the future of farming, so keep your eye on this ever-expanding approach to agriculture.